The first Zimbabwean Sign Language dictionary was launched in Bulawayo on Thursday, amidst calls by the deaf to recognise sign language as one of the country’s official languages.
Speaking at the event held at King George VI Centre, headmistress Perseverance Hadebe said the community of the deaf would be happy to have sign language recognised in the new constitution together with Ndebele, Shona and English, as official languages in the country.
“We hope to secure constitutional rights for the deaf so that sign language is recognised as an official language which will be taught at schools throughout the country,” she said.
The centre’s co-coordinator Inez Hussey said the launch of the 5 000-word dictionary was a step in the right direction which is set to ensure that the deaf are not kept in a closed society as they are only able to communicate amongst themselves.
“The deaf face numerous challenges when trying to communicate with their parents or even when they are not feeling well and have to visit the doctor for medical attention. They can communicate, but unfortunately the people they are communicating with do not understand what they will be saying.
“This dictionary will allow parents to be able to communicate with their own children and open communication channels with those who can speak,” said Hussey.
The dictionary was made possible through funding from the Open Society Institute for Southern Africa (Osisa), which brought together 20 signing experts from around the country to come up with one common dictionary used across the country, regardless of dialects. They also facilitated the initial printing of the first 5 000 copies of the dictionary.
Linguistics professor and fellow with Osisa, Lazarus Miti, launched the dictionary amid pomp and fanfare.
Hussey said there was need to have more dictionaries printed to cover all schools in the country and this needed funding.
United Nations Children’s Fund chief communications officer Micaela DeSousa said her organisation will explore ways to assist in the printing of the dictionary as part of the nationwide programme which has seen them purchasing and printing books for the visually impaired.